EU accepts Google anti-trust pledges

BRUSSELS - The European Commission accepted Wednesday the latest proposals by US giant Google to remedy complaints it abuses its dominant position in the Internet search market, opening the way to a settlement.

"I believe that the new proposal obtained from Google after long and difficult talks can now address the Commission's concerns," EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said.

The Commission, investigating Google since 2010, said the company "has now accepted to guarantee" that whenever it displays its own specialised search services, it will also display the services of three rivals in the same way to users.

This resolves one of the key complaints by competitors, which included US rival Microsoft, that Google ensured its services were more prominently displayed than theirs', putting them at a serious disadvantage.

"My mission is to protect competition to the benefit of consumers, not competitors," Almunia said.

Google's remedy "provides users with real choice between competing services presented in a comparable way; it is then up to them to choose the best alternative," he said.

The 18 complainants will now be allowed to comment on the proposal before the Commission takes a decision on whether to make it legally binding on Google.

At the same time, the Commission, the EU's executive arm, will tell them why it believes the remedies offered satisfy its concerns.

The Commission said Google had already made "significant concessions" to meet other competition concerns.

Among them, content providers can get an extensive opt-out from the use of their content in Google's specialised search services without being penalised by the company.

It will also remove exclusivity requirements in its agreements with publishers for the provision of search advertisements and remove restrictions on the ability for search advertising campaigns to be run on competing search advertising platforms.

The Commission stressed as "an important aspect" that Google's compliance with its commitments will be supervised by an independent monitoring trustee over its 5-year commitment in the European Economic Area.

The Commission and Google had exchanged a series of proposals last year in the case, but each time they were found wanting.

In December, Almunia warned Google that its proposals were "not acceptable" and the time would soon come to think of penalties against the company.

If found at fault in an EU anti-trust probe, a company risks a fine equal to up to 10 per cent of annual sales.

Google holds about 70 per cent of the search engine traffic in the United States and 90 per cent in Europe.

In January 2012, US authorities absolved Google of anti-competition practices in a similar case.